Monday, May 29, 2006

Late Night Eating

Contrary to the opening statement of my Mac and Cheese entry, I went out for food both Friday and Saturday after work this weekend. The first venture, at the Galaxy Diner, was successful as I was finally able to order a double portion of macaroni and cheese. It was worth the wait. They don't use the most flavorful cheese, but it is well proportioned with the noodles, has a creamy consistency, and is ready in less time than it would take me to go to Kroger for Kraft.

For dessert I had fried oreos. They sound a little odd, but think about it for a minute...there are four warm, chocolatey oreos with fried batter around them, and the soft cream in the middle of the cookie sandwich melts into the chocolate wafers. They're even served with ice cream and chocolate syrup, so you get the hot/cold effect that makes some desserts absolutely wonderful.

The second late night outing was to Joe's Inn (it's open until 2, which is very convenient). We sat in the room by the bar, which wasn't loud or smoky. Plus, the waitress was pleasant and helpful, so I didn't feel like I was imposing on anyone like I do sometimes at the diner. I ordered a cup of vegetable soup to start, which was homemade, and chicken fingers with marinara sauce. Joe's Inn is well known for its mountainous spaghetti entrees, which I have yet to try, but the marinara sauce was surprisingly flavorful and chunky. The chicken fingers were great too - crispy and juicy and tender all at the same time. The Galaxy Diner may be closer to my apartment, but Joe's Inn is slowly becoming my favorite eatery for any time of the day.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mac and Cheese Please

It's not often that I come back from work with the desire or motivation to go out for food. Last weekend was an exception, although it may be the only venture of its type. Due to its proximity and a lack of options, I decided to go to the Galaxy Diner for a quick bite. The diner isn't always my first choice but it's consistent, and they have excellent macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and cheese is one of those foods I've loved since I was a kid (especially my mom's homemade version). I remember having boxed Kraft for dinner as a treat when baby-sitters came over, and being thrilled when I went over to friends' houses and their moms were serving mac and cheese. However, it wasn't until last year that my appreciation for it fully developed. My roommate was completely obsessed with Velveeta shells and cheese, Kraft, and a bunch of other brands and varieties. She ate it at a few times a week, and it's because of her that I have cravings for elbow shaped pasta with creamy, cheesy sauce.

On this particular night I had forgotten about the diner's mac and cheese (occasionally it's my main goal when I go to Galaxy), but there were bowls and bowls of it in the pickup window when I walked by. The aroma was much too tempting and I knew what I wanted before I sat down. I ordered a Philly steak (being from Pennsylvania I should have realized this was a huge mistake) and double mac and cheese.

Everything was fine until the waiter came back to say that they were out of my much desired side dish. Crushed, I ordered fries and cucumber salad, and brooded over my loss. It wouldn't have been so terrible except that this was not my first experience at Galaxy with depleted mac and cheese. In fact, I think I've only managed to attain it two or three times out of multiple visits. To make matters worse, my plate arrived with cucumber salad and stewed tomatoes. Yuck. Our server said he could change it, but I'd had enough at that point. I ate my sub (which wasn't too bad considering) and left as soon as possible. Next time I'll just have to make my own, or rely on Kraft, which is always there when I need it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Chocolate Delinquency

Few things have made me feel young in my first year after college. Paying monthly bills, student loans, rent, etc. was an immediate launch into adulthood, and I forget that I'm mistaken for a college student at times. I purchased a new computer recently, and had to say goodbye to the background of strawberries and chocolate that had served as my computer wallpaper for 4 years. Dessert transforms my attitude into that of a little kid, and last week I indulged in two events with vast amounts of chocolate.

The first was a benefit for CHIP (Children's Health Involving Parents), and a $25 ticket bought several local wine samples and various chocolate treats. While the wine vendors gave out little sips of a few of their products, the chocolate was unlimited. It was also beautifully presented in the Main Street Train Station, which was renovated within the past few years. There were several chocolate fountains (white, milk and dark) and two peanut butter fountains, which I had never seen but was thrilled to try. Dried fruit, fresh strawberries, pirouline cookies and other items accompanied the fountains; many other chocolates covered the tables. One of the best pieces I tried was a Guinness chocolate, which was dark and creamy and rich.

It was the kind of heavenly scene that is almost too good to be true. Sure enough, towards the end of the evening, my companions and I (along with two other 'young adults' we were talking to) were yelled at by one of the women standing near us. One of the organizers was speaking to the room about the event, and we hadn't even realized what was going on because so many other people were making noise. We were far from the loudest in the room, yet the woman decided to scold us because we were the unquestionably the youngest attendees.

Two days later I went to the University of Richmond School of Continuing Studies' Chocolate Festival. It differed from CHIP's Chocoholic in that the $10 ticket allowed you to take one item from fourteen stands. A few of the same stores that had their products at the train station were giving out samples at the Chocolate Fest. There were two fountains, and the vendor who had provided Guinness chocolates at the CHIP event also had chocolate made with
cabernet and martini mix. For the Love of Chocolate, a little store located a mere block from my apartment, also participated in the festival. They let us have one of everything they'd brought, and my friend and I filled our complimentary Chinese takeout boxes with different samples.

While I was walking around at the CHIP benefit and the University of Richmond festival, I noticed that very few people were unhappy (aside from the cranky woman at the Chocoholic event). There are studies that show that chocolate can elevate one's mood, and being in its presence is enough to feel just a little bit better. I don't see anything wrong with being happier, or feeling younger, and I don't think others should either.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Revising Rachael Ray

Two weeks ago I happened to catch an episode of 30 Minute Meals on the Food Network. Rachael Ray was preparing food to feed a crowd, and her "Not-Sagna Pasta Toss" appealed to me because of its simplicity. I've never mustered the motivation to make real lasagna (besides one time when I was in Italy, but it was easier there for some reason). The idea is to mix the ingredients so that the pasta has the same flavors as lasagna but isn't exactly the same consistency:,,FOOD_9936_32884,00.html

I usually end up with my own interpretation of Rachael's recipes, and this endeavor was no different. I'm not overly fond of ricotta, so I opted for mozzarella, and I chose ground chicken instead of sirloin. This led to a few other changes - chicken stock instead of beef, and no Worcestershire sauce (Rachael uses it because it goes well with red meat). I also decided to break up sheets of lasagna instead of a short, curly pasta. Rachael suggested this option on the show and I'm partial to wide, flat noodles.

Like the recipe says, I sauteed the meat in some olive oil until it was cooked through and then added a chopped onion. I wasn't cooking in my own kitchen, and didn't have any fresh garlic, so I had to use garlic powder. Normally I love a lot of garlic, but I think the dish turned out better without it since the powder didn't cut into the chicken and onion flavor so much. I did use allspice, salt, pepper, and red chili flakes, and continued cooking the chicken until it started to brown. I didn't know how the red wine would taste with white meat because it's often used with veal or beef. However, it emphasized the sweetness of the allspice, chicken and onion even more, and I think it provided an interesting layer of flavor. I added a large can of diced tomatoes last, and let the sauce simmer for ten minutes or so (a little longer than the directions call for).

The hot pasta water didn't blend with the shredded mozzarella the same way it did with the ricotta on the show, although it did melt the mozzarella enough so that when I added the pasta it didn't break up into weird shapes. I followed the instructions and tossed the pasta with parmesan cheese and half of the sauce, and then I topped it with the rest of the sauce and more mozzarella - I ended up using all of the two cups in the bag. My pasta dish was a little creamier than Rachael's because of the extra cheese, and the flavors varied slightly, but it's nice to know that I can cheat if I ever want lasagna.